Saturday, 05 April 2003 @ 07:26 am SGT

Contributed by: Gatekeeper

The following article reminds me of a story once told of how 2 demons were bragging about their prowess. The spirit of death declared that he killed a 100 people in a particular village. The spirit of panic retorted, "Sure, but I drove the rest of the people sick with worry!".

This is a perhaps an appropriate time to centre our thoughts to the Shepherd who watches over all of us.

A article by Nury Vittachi, a witty journalist/writer who lives in HK. There is a dangerous virus spreading through Hong Kong. It is NOT atypical pneumonia. It is panic. All outbreaks of any high-profile pathogen or disease (cf the UK's Mad Cow disease) have two major effects. A tiny proportion of people are hit by the disease itself. A large number of people, organizations and entire industry sectors are hit by the panic that accompanies it.

Yes, you should be careful and take all precautions as advised by your medical advisor, but no, you don't have to panic and flee Hong Kong.

1. You don't have to stay at home. At the time of writing (first week of April, 2003), more than 99.999% of people in Hong Kong are completely free of the SARS virus.

2. An increase in numbers doesn't mean people in every apartment block have it. The virus's growth pattern shows a tendency to remain tightly clustered - for example in the Prince of Wales Hospital and Amoy Gardens.

3. Ninety-nine people a day die of flu every day in the United States alone. Of these 99, about 30 die of acute respiratory problems. In Hong Kong, 16 people have died over a month.

4. In any large city of this size, there are hundreds of pneumonia sufferers at any time, of which several dozen have some form of atypical pneumonia.

5. Yes, the virus does mutate. But this doesn't necessarily mean it continually gets more virulent. Scientists note that as SARS spreads, it is significantly weakening from carrier to carrier.

6. The media may call it a killer virus, but the survival rate among those hit in these clusters is 96%.

7. Yes, we all care about our children, but very few kids get it - careful examination of lists confirms that victims tend to be elderly people with a direct physical link to the clusters.

8. Contaminated places get clean by themselves. The virus dies without a carrier. Some scientists estimate its life as three hours, others say a little longer, but all agree it cannot hibernate . In other words, you can even check into the Metropole Hotel floor 9 without fear.

9. The virus is believed to die when the air temperature reaches 27 degrees C. One hot Hong Kong day could fry all traces of it on exposed surfaces.

10. You can keep your air conditioner on in the office. Ward 8B in the Prince of Wales Hospital shares an air conditioning system with the infected Ward 8A. But there was not a single infection in 8B.

11. Many people assume the "growth model" of the virus will follow sci-fi movie scenarios. Evidence suggests it is more likely to follow the Guangzhou experience, where it spread for a few weeks and then started to contract.

12. The flood of panicky emails from a variety of people, including doctors who should know better, is not helpful. One email doing the rounds is instructing people not to exercise, for example. Panic creates muddleheadedness. Consider the facts above. Hong Kong is our home.

Stay calm and stay healthy!
Nury Vittachi